The sparkle intensified as the whispered word faded. Dizzied, Eve shook her head, trying to clear her vision. Finally the swirling light steadied, coalescing into candlelight reflected off the jeweled hilt of a dagger—which she held once again in her hand.
Fingers clenching on the weapon, Eve looked around her. The large canopied bed and tall wardrobe told her she’d been transported to a bedchamber. A lady’s bedchamber, for she stood before a dressing table, the tip of her dagger pointing toward a large jewel case.
A shock ran through her. Might the rest of the Merygham emeralds be hidden within that case?
Eagerly she applied the dagger to the lock, twisting until it yielded. Ignoring the outrageousness of her actions—after all that had happened this night, what matter a bit of thievery?—she plunged her hands into the case, pushing aside necklaces, ear bobs, brooches winking with diamonds, rubies, sapphires, searching for the green fire of emeralds.
At the very back of the case, her fingers encountered a jumble of unset stones. She raked them into the light and her heart leapt. Emeralds! Emeralds of graduated size that would perfectly complement the brooch and the stones she’d already retrieved.
Hastily she pulled them out and thrust them into the evening bag with the others. Were these stones enough to complete the necklace? If so, how and where was she to get them set?
Before she could decide what to do next, the chamber door opened. Gasping, Eve closed the jewel case and whirled to face the newcomer.
Sebastian! her heart sang. But even as she poised herself to run into his arms, she realized once again, she’d been fooled by the handsome profile above a black dinner jacket and white tie. This was not her Sebastian, but the elegant Regency Sebastian she’d met earlier on the stairway.
He’d halted, too, staring at her. “My Lady in Green!” he exclaimed. “What are you doing in my mother’s chamber?”
While Eve fumbled for some plausible explanation, he advanced on her. “”No need for a dagger, my lovely, I mean you no harm, but…” He broke off, his expression of delighted surprise turning to concern. “Your gown is torn—and is that blood on your shoulder? Are you injured?”
“M-mud, not blood,” she stuttered. “I’ve been, ah, traveling.” As she tucked her evening bag under her arm to rub at the spot, two emeralds spilled out.
Drat, she must not have fastened the clasp! Before she could snatch them up, Sebastian swept them off the floor. He gazed at the gems in his palm, then back at her, his expression turning grimmer. “The emeralds. Papa brought them for Mama, but she never fancied them. Not with the curse.
“Curse?” Eve echoed faintly.
“Returning from London after purchasing the gems, Papa came upon a band of gypsies, who were being driven out by the local residents of the town through which he was riding. Having pity on them, he offered the leader a stone to buy food and supplies. We need shelter and a place to stay, not gems, the leader replied—for what jeweler would believe the stone wasn’t stolen? Knowing his neighbors were unlikely to look favorably on having a gypsy band settle near Meryngham, Papa regretfully refused. The gypsy leader tossed the emerald back at him, pronouncing a curse on the stones and anyone who wore them. Unless…”
“Unless the gems were given as a token of true love by the heir to his lady. Sadly, my parents’ marriage was an arranged one. Mama kept the stones, but as you see, unset.”
The necklace must have been created by some later Daubenay, Eve thought. And at what point had the fate of the necklace determined the fate of Merygham?
“You could stay…and I could give them to you,” Sebastian said softly, placing the stones back in her palm before reaching to caress the spot where she’d brushed away the mud. “I hardly dared hope I would see you again—but here you are! Our love could break the curse.”
His touch was mesmerizing, intoxicating. She was so tired and confused, and he was so very like her Sebastian. Was this what she was meant to do? Stay with this Sebastian, so the necklace might be created?
His lips brushed her bare throat, sending shivers down her spine, calling up a heated response from deep within her. “I’d make you a choker of green fire,” he whispered. “Fire to match the blaze you ignite within me as I touch you…kiss you.”
He pulled her unresisting body closer and took her mouth. He even tasted like her Sebastian, she thought muzzily as his tongue swept hers. She swayed, and he caught her to him, fitting her against his lean hard strength.
How easy it would be to stay within the shelter of his arms, giving herself into his care. But some nagging bit of resistance held her back.
He’d said “choker,” not “necklace,” she realized, the importance of that fact finally breaking through her sensual haze. The heirloom she’d worn earlier this evening had been long, the central brooch nestling in the hollow between her breasts.
She could not be meant to stay here.
Still, Eve had to summon every last bit of strength and will to push him away.
“I..I cannot stay,” she said, retreating from him. “I must take the gems and go. I can’t explain, but it is imperative for you, for the future of the Daubenays.”
The heated look fading from his eyes, he reached out to capture her shoulders. “But my lovely lady, how can I protect you from harm if you go? No, you must stay.”
Did he know about the danger that threatened the wearer of the necklace? Before she could ask him, he moved toward the door, a hand raised as if to lock it. “I cannot allow you to make the sacrifice.”
If the necklace were not complete, the Daubenays—and her Sebastian—would suffer. She could not let this Sebastian trap her here! Clutching the loose emeralds in her hand, she rushed for the door, struggling as he sought to prevent her from passing.
“If you care for me, let me go!” she cried, breaking free as his fingers slipped on the silk of her gown.
Picking up her skirts, she raced out the door and down the hallway, frantic to escape his following footsteps. Coming to a cross passage, she turned down the unlit hallway, grabbed the handle of the first door she saw, and rushed in.
Closing it behind her, Eve leaned against the solid oak panel, gasping. Not until she straightened did she realize she was not alone—as the cold steel of a blade slid against her throat.
Julia Justiss is happy to announce the first book of her Ransleigh Rogues series, the story of four cousins, best friends through childhood and university, whose destinies are forever altered by war and the love of one remarkable woman.
March's THE RAKE TO RUIN HER features "Magnificent Max," earl's son and leader of the Rogues, whose dreams of a brilliant government career are ruined by betrayal at the Congress of Vienna. But heiress Caroline Denby, who wishes to avoid marriage, is delighted to encounter the disgraced Max at a houseparty. Why not, she proposes, put his bad reputation to good use by ruining hers?